Friday, October 23, 2009

Please Join Us in Welcoming Susan Heim, Editor for Chicken Soup for the Soul

Recently I (Debbie) got to see one of my first devotional stories published. The story, Like a Child, was based on an event with my granddaughter that served to snap me out of my routine and back into awareness of all the beauty around me. Today, I am privileged to present my interview with Susan M. Heim, one of the two co-editors of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women. At the end of this blog post, please leave your comment or question for Susan and be entered to win a signed copy of this great devotional. Let's start with a little bit about Susan and her extensive publishing experience!

Susan M. Heim is an author and editor, specializing in parenting, multiples, Christian and women’s issues. She is a longtime editor for the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Susan’s books include Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women; Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family; Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More; It’s Twins! Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence; Boosting Your Baby’s Brain Power; Oh, Baby! 7 Ways a Baby Will Change Your Life the First Year; and, Twice the Love: Stories of Inspiration for Families with Twins, Multiples and Singletons. Her articles have appeared in many books, websites, and magazines, including Angels on Earth and Twins Magazine. Susan is the founder of TwinsTalk, a website for families with twins and multiples. She is the mother of four sons, including a set of twins, and blogs about parenting atwww.susanheim.blogspot.com.

Good morning, Susan. So happy to have you with us today. Start us off by telling us about your latest release, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women is Chicken Soup’s first daily devotional book! It includes 101 daily devotions to comfort, encourage, and inspire women through the ups and downs of life. Each devotion has a beautiful story that illustrates an inspirational Bible passage, followed by an original, personal prayer. Chapters include Faith, Motherhood, Illness, Life Lessons, Marriage, Service to Others, Self-Esteem, and more. The book also includes two bonus devotions and an inspirational foreword from Jennifer Sands, a 9/11 widow, Christian author and speaker.

How is this Chicken Soup book different from the mainstream?

Like other Chicken Soup for the Soul books, you’ll find 101 inspirational stories. However, each story in this book is unique because 1) it’s written by women, for women; 2) it’s accompanied by an inspirational Bible verse and a personal prayer; and, 3) it’s in a Christian devotional format, so readers can start or end each day with a nourishing and restorative story.

What do you hope that readers will say about this book?
We hope that readers will say that these stories showed them that God is an ever-present source of comfort and love in their lives, regardless of their circumstances. We want the words of wisdom from the women in this book to warm readers’ hearts and convince them that God is their partner in this walk of life, whether the path is smooth or filled with potholes. We’ve already been so touched by the letters we’ve received from women who have felt less alone after reading this book.

You have a co-editor on this project, Karen Talcott. We’ve only interviewed a few partnerships in writing and would love to know how the two of you produced this book together.

Actually, this book didn’t start out as a Chicken Soup book. I’d been writing devotions over the years, but didn’t have a firm idea about what I wanted to do with them. I started sharing my ideas with my friend, Karen, and we decided to do a book of devotions together! Our first intention was to do a year’s worth of devotions, but once we each had written a dozen or so, we were already feeling overwhelmed. We spoke to the manager of a local Christian bookstore who said that women prefer shorter devotional books because they like to try a new one every few months. That made us a feel a little better knowing that we didn’t have to write 365 stories. But then we started thinking about what we really wanted to share with women. Many of them are dealing with issues such as cancer, marital problems, death, economic problems and more. We realized that we didn’t have all the answers or all these experiences. That’s when we decided to recruit other women to tell their stories. We visited churches and women’s groups. We posted on forums and websites. And the stories started coming in. We were amazed at the generosity and faith of the women who wrote. They’d been through some very difficult experiences, as well as the many everyday challenges we all face, but all had experienced a healing and strength through faith.

When we had enough stories, we started looking for a publisher. Several publishers were interested, but things moved slowly. I had been working with Chicken Soup for the Soul for many years as an editor, and suddenly I realized that the answer had been right under my nose all this time. It occurred to me that these devotions were simply shorter versions of Chicken Soup stories. Chicken Soup had never done a devotional book before, so I sent them the manuscript. They loved the idea! And all the pieces just fell into place.

Susan how did you get your start in writing? In editing?

I have a degree in business, but always loved writing and editing. I started doing freelance editing for Health Communications, Inc. (HCI), while working for another company. And in 2000, HCI hired me as a full-time editor. At that time, they were the publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and I loved working on their books. Several years later, I was surprised to find that I was pregnant with twins! After their birth in December 2003, I decided to become a work-at-home mother and do freelance editing and writing again. I continued to work for HCI, as well as other companies. I also began writing books about parenting and twins, and had several of them published. When Chicken Soup for the Soul acquired a new publisher, I really wanted to continue working on their books. They offered me co-authorship on my first book with them, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More, and I’ve since published two more books with them: Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women and Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family.

Were you inundated with submissions?

The response was definitely greater than we expected! Women have always been hard-wired, I think, to want to offer comfort and advice to one another. That’s why we have so many mothers’ groups, book clubs, girls’ night out events, and Christian women’s circles. We find comfort in telling our stories to each other. And this book was an opportunity for many women to do that.

As writers, we love to understand the submission process. Can you tell us about the Chicken Soup process and also about yours for books you put together independently?

Stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul books are collected through the website at www.chickensoup.com. If you click on “Submit Your Story” on the left sidebar, you’ll see a submission form, story guidelines, and possible book topics. Chicken Soup for the Soul editors read through every single story that is submitted. If it makes us laugh or cry or inspires us, it’s a potential Chicken Soup for the Soul story.

For books that I put together myself, you can email stories to me directly through my author website at www.susanheim.com.

When you were dealing with submissions, what was the biggest problem you had? The strangest submission? The funniest?

The biggest problem was just the overwhelming volume of submissions. I always want to do a really good job in evaluating them and give them my full attention, so I try to read the stories in small chunks of time so I don’t get too tired or distracted.

The strangest submissions are those that are sent in by people who have obviously never read a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. They may send in a story of three sentences. Or it may just be a rant, not an actual story. Writers should always be familiar with a publication before they submit. They should get several copies of a book series or magazine to which they’re submitting and study the format and style of writing. This greatly increases their chances of acceptance.

As for the funniest submissions, that’s hard to pin down because we get so many funny stories, and I love them! I like to laugh, so I naturally gravitate to the stories that are humorous. We certainly have a lot of serious stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, but we also try to interject some humor to brighten people’s day.

What things make you reject a submission almost immediately?

We don’t accept essays, sermons, term papers, etc. Submissions must tell an actual story. If they’re more than 1,200 words, we’ll reject them in most cases unless we feel the extra length is really essential and keeps our interest, or we feel the story can be edited down to the appropriate length. We edit the stories, but if they’re so riddled with grammatical and spelling errors that they’re difficult to read, they will probably be rejected. If a story doesn’t fit the theme of the book, we won’t use it unless we feel it might work in another book we’re doing.

What things make you fall in love with a story?

We love stories that stir emotions. If they make us cry or laugh out loud or get the “warm fuzzies,” they’re good candidates. We also love to stumble across unusual topics. Stories about pets dying are common. If your dog did something that few dogs have done before, it’s more likely to be accepted.

Please tell our readers how to know if you are soliciting new stories and what types of things you will be looking for in a submission.

Check the Chicken Soup for the Soul website at www.chickensoup.com often. Potential titles are frequently added. Read the submission guidelines on the site. They contain great tips for writing a Chicken Soup story. Make sure your stories are edited and free of errors before you submit them. Write in first person, telling the story from your viewpoint. Most of all, be persistent! We do get a lot of submissions, but keep trying. Sometimes, it takes years to put a Chicken Soup for the Soul book together. You may submit a story for one particular book, but find that we’ve added another title that your story might also be appropriate for. Most writers (not just for Chicken Soup, but in general) receive multiple rejections before they are accepted.

Susan, what are you working on right now?

I have an idea for my first fiction book, which I’ve started researching! I’m also busy spreading the word about my new books by writing articles, doing radio interviews, and networking. Writing a book is just the first step in being an author. Once the book is done, the hard work begins in telling people all about it. And, of course, I hope to work on more Chicken Soup books in 2010!

Give us some basic contact information, please!

Readers can learn more about me at www.susanheim.com.
or visit my parenting blog at www.susanheim.blogspot.com.
And, of course, they can learn more about Chicken Soup for the Soul at www.chickensoup.com.My Twitter name is @ParentingAuthor.



Have a question or comment for Susan today? Leave one to be entered to win a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul:Devotionals for Women signed by Susan Heim, Karen Talcott, and Debbie Kaufman.

25 comments:

Sandy Elzie said...

Good morning Susan,

Thank you so much for taking time from your (hectic?) day. I'm currently reading this book (Thanks, Debbie) and I've even read a couple of the stories to my Wednesday Bible study class. I haven't even finished the book and I'm hooked on all the experiences other women have had and I agree that women like devotionals that they can read through quickly...we're all too busy.

Question: Since you work from home, do you have a certain amount of time, or time of day, that you work? Is the demand for inspirational writing growing today or is it leveling off?

Sandy

Anna Steffl said...

Good morning and thanks for posting!

What a neat idea behind this book. I'm glad you had that "aha" moment about putting together what you were writing and editing.

What's the hardest part about being an editor?

Thanks,

Anna

Dianna Love said...

Wonderful interview and terrific book. You have quite a busy life (and four children with a set of twins to boot - wow). I originally bought the book because of Debbie's story then realized I had several friends and family who would love the book so I bought more to give away (once Debbie signs them).

Congratulations to you, Debbie and the others who contributed to this book - a beautiful job of writing and editing. Good luck with your fiction idea.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Sandy: How cool that you've used it with your Bible Study.
Anna: I'm obviously going to let Susan take that question :)

Dianna: Wow! Thanks for the support. I do agree that it makes a nice gift book. And, of course, the holidays are coming up....

Donnell said...

Very nice interview, Debbie and Sandy, and so timely. Look forward to reading the book. Debbie, I hope your granddaughter is okay.

Susan M. Heim said...

Hi Sandy,
Thanks so much for your great questions! My work time is a little unconventional because I have to work around my kids' schedules. My oldest boys are teens, so they're pretty self-sufficient, but my twins are in kindergarten. So, I work from 8:30-1:30, which is when I leave the house to get them from school. And I go back to work from 8:30-10:30 at night, after the twins have gone to bed. But I'm always checking emails and doing little jobs when I can squeeze them in.

I think the demand for inspirational writing is increasing because times are tough. Unemployment is high and people are worried about the future. Therefore, we gravitate toward stories that make us feel better. We become hopeful when we read that others have made it through similar experiences.

Susan M. Heim said...

Hi Anna,
I think the hardest part of being an editor is just getting started on a project. When you get a new one, it seems overwhelming at first trying to understand what it's all about, where the story is going, and so on. But then, at a certain point, something clicks, and you figure out what you want to do with the book and how you want to organize it. But it's that initial learning curve that's most frustrating for me.

Susan M. Heim said...

Hi Dianna,
Thanks so much for your kind words. I'm so glad you're enjoying the book and finding it to be a great gift! We really loved reading the stories we received and hope that they will give a lot of peace and reassurance to the women reading them. We had one woman write to us with a whole list of horrible things that had happened to her that day. She finally sat down and picked up the book, and she said it brought tears to her eyes because it was the first sign of hope she'd received all day. It really turned around her attitude and her day.

Tami Brothers said...

Thank you, Susan, for blogging with the PF&HTs today. The story of your everyday life is truly inspiring and I really appreciate you sharing it with us. I’ve already clicked over to the Chicken Soup website and LOVE it. I had no idea there were so many of them out there. I just looked at my bookshelf and realized I have 4 of the titles you have listed (Chicken Soup for the Writers Soul being my favorite!). I have also given away many of the books to my mom and mother-in-law as gifts over the years. After reading the guidelines, I think I’ll be submitting a few of my own stories.

Your life sounds very hectic and again, I appreciate that you shared it with us. Too many people believe that they just can’t fit the writing in because of everything they do. I feel that seeing just how much can be done can inspire them to at least try. Again, thank you for blogging with us today. You have answered every question I had thought of while I was reading this, so I’ll just pop back by and see what everyone else comes up with.

Tami

Susan M. Heim said...

Hi Tami,
Thank you for your wonderful feedback. Yes, if a woman with four boys can write, anyone can! LOL Of course, I don't have the perfectly clean house or the biggest social life, but that's okay with me.

Writer's Soul is one of my favorite books. I worked on that one as an editor and really loved it. I hope you'll submit stories for future Chicken Soup books!

Debra L Garnand said...

Thanks Debbie, Glad you made me aware of the book. Sometimes we get so caught up in life we forget about the small things that give us the most joy. I am so blessed to have a special needs child that teaches me this everyday. Can't wait to read the book.
Debra

Cyrano said...

Susan,
It was so nice to sit down and read your post this afternoon. What an inspirational story.
I was thrilled to realize that there is a website for the Chicken Soup books. I guess I should have realized that, everyone has a website now-a-days, but it just never occured to me. Can't wait to log on and read.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your life to give us a glimpse into your routine and also for giving us some much needed motivation.
Have a lovely weekend!
Tamara

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks for your post and for sharing with us how you came to be an editor and writer. I'm definitely buying some copies for Christmas (Debbie, get your pen ready). I really appreciate your insight into what Chicken Soup is looking for and what you look for as an editor. Maybe I'll take a peek later today.

thanks,
Sally

Mae Nunn said...

Welcome Susan! The Chicken Soup books are American icons and we thank you for bringing this special devotional to women. And we especially love this particular Chicken Soup book because it includes a wonderfully talented new Georgia author, Debbie Kaufman!

Mary Marvella said...

Susan, the Chicken Soup books keep expanding because they fill a need. Thanks for adding yours to the mix! How appropriate!

Yay, Debbie!

Debbie Kaufman said...

Hey Debra: Hope your crew is doing well. Thanks for stopping by today.

Sally: My pen is ever ready!

Mae: I'm blushing. And my requested partial is about to leave to the agent!

Tamara: You can subscribe and get daily stories delivered to your email.

Thanks, Mary.

Cinthia Hamer said...

Susan, thank you so much for your inspiring story. I'm awed at your insight and perseverance. I have a hard enough time sitting down to write with just a husband and several fur-babies clamoring for attention. And you have young twins. Wow! :)

Glad to see the Chicken Soup books are expanding. As Mary stated, they fill at need. It's almost as if you can walk into a bookstore and find the perfect book for every occasion.

Again, thank you for visiting and best wishes for your future success.

Linda Henderson said...

I have loved all of the Chicken Soup books that I have read. In these trying times an inspirational book is very needed. I will look forward to reading this book.

Carol Burnside said...

Thanks for sharing your publishing/editorial journey with us. I'm impressed with all you do.

While reading this post, I was struck with an idea for a Chicken Soup story, something I've thought of often through the years, but never considered how significant it was to my life until today.

Thanks!

Maxine Davis said...

Susan,
Thank you for joining us at PFHT today. You are certainly busy. I'm impressed that you get so much done and while at home. I thought there would be so much more time at home. Well, I guess I really need to get organized.

Debbie, I loved your story in Chicken Soup. Congratulatons!

I think I may need to also get the CS for Writers.

Susan M. Heim said...

Thank you to everyone for your warm words and encouragement. As writers, we spend so much time working in isolation, and it's so wonderful to hear when the fruits of our labor have impacted people's lives.

Julie Page said...

Susan - I own the Chicken Soup for Singles. To have one for women in a devotional form is fabulous. It was nice to get to know more about the writer behind the books!

Barbara Monajem said...

Uplifting stories to read every day are a great idea. We all need as much positive input as we can get. When it's all in one place, it's easier to get into the good habit of reading something at the same time every day or when you need a lift.

Ana Aragón said...

Susan,

Thank you for sharing your writing and editing story! I love the uplifting stories of Chicken Soup and this devotional fills a need out there for women.

Ana

Susan M. Heim said...

Thank you to everyone for your kind words and thoughts, and I wish you all the best in your writing endeavors! And thanks to Debbie for inviting me to be this week's guest and for writing such a terrific story for the book. I had a wonderful time!